Tom Ridge was not a rich man when he resigned as the chief of the Department of Homeland Security in 2004. His financial disclosure from that year showed he had investments worth between $100,000 and $815,00 in companies. Though modest by the current standards of senior government officials, those investments included companies “with contracts with his department and others who want to profit from homeland security,” a CQ story said at the time.
Yet soon after leaving government service, Ridge bought a property in Chevy Chase, Maryland worth about $2 million. His home, which was featured in Home & Design, aka “The magazine of luxury homes and fine interiors,” boasts custom interior decorations, including a table designed by the brother of the late Princess Diana, a dining room paneled with “native Sweetgum” and artwork “representative of the Tudor period.”
So how exactly has Ridge made all his money?
Ridge was assistant to the president for Homeland Security under George W. Bush between 2001 and 2003, and then the first DHS secretary, from 2003 to 2005. Prior to that, Ridge had a long career in public service: He was an assistant district attorney in Erie County, Pennsylvania for two years, held a House seat for more than a decade, and served as governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001.
Ridge was best known at DHS for creating the threat level codes, with Code Orange warnings causing Americans to rush out to buy duct tape and build bomb shelters. In August 2004, days after the Democrats nominated John Kerry, Ridge raised the terror threat level to Code Orange for several big cities. The threat only receded to Code Yellow on November 10, 2004, which purely by coincidence came a few days after Bush defeated Democratic presidential contender John Kerry.
Soon after leaving government in 2004 (and boasting of “more than 22 consecutive years of public service”) Ridge cashed in on the homeland security gravy train.
Like Louis Freeh and many other former government officials, Ridge has been well paid to speak on behalf of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, which was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States between 1997 and 2012, and before many other outfits. Other post-government speaking gigs include the North American Commercial Real Estate Congress. (“Tom Ridge is uniquely qualified to discuss the threats facing real estate,” said a promo.)
Ridge has also netted huge fees by sitting on the boards of companies like Exelon, the nuclear power giant, and various DHS contractors, among them TechRadium Inc, which markets a color-coded “threat alert system” to public schools, utilities and the military.
But Ridge has made most of his money by opening a series of private consulting and lobbying firms. One of Ridge’s first lobbying clients was the Albanian government, which he advised in exchange for $480,000, on qualifying for NATO membership. The advice apparently was successful, although to date, Albania’s best known contribution to the NATO mission is its alleged involvement in a shady deal to provide “unreliable” and “obsolete” ammunition to the Afghan military.
In 2007, Ridge founded Washington-based Ridge Global, whose advisory committee included retired general and terror analyst Barry McCaffrey, former homeland security adviser John Gordon, and former Coast Guard commandant Thomas Collins. “What I am able to do is access individuals and relationships or subject-matter experts with international expertise in a variety of areas because of my work as governor and at Homeland Security,” he said at the time. He’s also a founder of Ridge-Schmidt Cyber LLC, along with Howard Schmidt, a former cybersecurity adviser to Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
Through appearances on the media and as chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s National Security Task Force, Ridge helps create demand for his own services. For example, two years ago he lobbied for passage of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 in testimony before Congress. Specifically he said that business, not government, should decide how best to protect the country’s information networks and opposed rules that he said could swiftly lead to onerous regulations. “It’s a slippery slope that I’m most concerned about,” he warned.
Back in 2008, Ridge told Art & Design that he was initially worried the Tudor-style Chevy Chase home would be too small; his concerns were apparently assuaged after a custom redesign. But if he ever plans to expand his real estate holdings, there’s plenty of opportunity, given his line of business.
According to a 2013 report, the Global Homeland Security Market was estimated to be $415.53 billion that year and was expected to reach $544.02 billion by 2018.
Ridge did not respond to a request for comment, made through the Ridge Global press office, on his post-government business dealings.
P.S. Tom Ridge periodically does good things. For example, he has supported gay rights and has said, “Sometimes we just come across as too damned self-righteous, and I’m sorry, that’s just not the 21st century political party GOP that I think we need to govern America.”
Photo: Chris O’Meara/AP